In the US, summer break is roughly three and a half months or 16 weeks.
It begins when students finish the school year between late May and late June and ends when they begin the new school year between early August and early September.
Compared to students in other industrialized countries, like Israel (216 days of instruction per academic year) and Japan (243 days), American students have a much shorter amount of instructional time (180 days) and enjoy much more generous summer breaks.
Table of Contents
- Why is summer break in the US so long?
- What do people in the US do during summer break?
- How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected summer break?
America’s longer-than-average summer breaks are due to a mixture of fiscal, academic, and health concerns, many of which are now considered outdated.
Today’s 180-day academic year, along with the long summer break, came about at the beginning of the 20th century.
Before that, urban schools had longer academic calendars, punctuated by short breaks throughout the year.
In 1842, for example, New York’s academic year lasted for 245 days, Chicago’s lasted for 240 days, and Detroit’s was as long as 260 days.
Due to the fact that attendance at the time wasn’t mandatory, students, as a whole had poor attendance rates.
Although the total amount of time they spent in school was similar to the length of time students spend in school nowadays, attendance was very low relative to the number of days schools were in session during that period.
As a result of the poor attendance, the length of the academic calendar came into question.
Officials wondered whether it was worth keeping schools open year-round when students were hardly even attending school.
Another concern was that the diligent students who were regularly attending school were suffering from burnout.
Lastly, there were worries that “too much education” was detrimental to children’s health.
Calls to shorten the academic calendar finally led to reform at the beginning of the 20th century. Officials reduced the school year by about two months.
Instead of short breaks between each quarter, there was now one long summer break.
Although education reformers could have opted for a long winter or spring break, they chose summer for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Poor ventilation in school buildings made the buildings extremely uncomfortable to be inside during the summer heatwaves.
- There were fears that hot, crowded spaces were conducive to the spread of germs, bacteria, and diseases.
- Summer was the time of year during which wealthy families vacationed and went on holiday. So, to ensure all their students were being accommodated, school administrators had to adapt accordingly and choose the summer break option.
Reforms first took place in urban schools. Rural districts eventually followed suit to make sure their standards were aligned with the schools in urban areas.
“If physicians today are no longer insisting that too much education impairs children’s health and if schools today have well-working ventilation systems, why haven’t we returned to the long academic calendar with school during the summer?” some ask.
Perhaps, the biggest reason is that operating schools is expensive. Plus, it’s difficult to change a long-standing, well-entrenched system like the education system in the US.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been calls to reform our current education system. Whether or not changes do occur remains to be seen.
There’s a wide array of activities Americans do during summer break. From family vacations and summer camps to theme parks and festivals, the options are endless.
With the vastness and diversity of the US, it’s no wonder Americans never run out of things to do.
While some families like to rent an RV and travel to the many scenic national parks, like the Grand Canyon in Arizona or Yellowstone National Park, others prefer to bask in the sun at one of the country’s many beaches, like Maui in Hawaii and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
That being said, many Americans enjoy traveling internationally. Popular summer options include backpacking across Europe and cruising in the Caribbean.
Between May and September, many American kids attend at least one summer camp.
Some camps take place in kids’ local areas, e.g., at local schools or parks, while other camps require that children travel and stay for a week or more.
Kids at overnight camps might sleep in shared tents, cabins, or cottages, depending on the venue.
Some camps, like basketball or drama camps, are centered around a specific theme or activity. Others are quite general in nature, allowing kids to take part in a variety of activities.
These activities may include horseback riding, arts and crafts, and swimming.
For many, summer vacation isn’t complete without a trip to a theme or amusement park.
With theme parks like Universal Studios in Florida and amusement parks like Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, Americans have a plethora of options to choose from.
But the most famous theme park of all is Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. In fact, it’s the most popular theme park in the entire world.
The activities at theme/amusement parks are also infinite, ranging from riding a Ferris wheel or roller coaster to playing games for prizes and gorging on popcorn.
Festivals, such as food and music festivals, abound in America.
The country’s most raved-about music festivals include Coachella in California, Burning Man in Nevada, Lollapalooza in Chicago, and Bonnaroo in Tennessee.
For people looking for mouthwatering delicacies, they can attend the New York City Wine and Food Festival, the Taste of Chicago, the Picklesburgh Festival (in Pennsylvania), the San Diego Food and Wine Festival, A Taste of Colorado, or the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, to name just a few.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited old debates and opened up new ones about how schools in the US are being operated. For example, should officials physically close or reopen schools?
Do they need to reduce summer breaks to have more instructional time so that students can make up for lost time in class – both remotely and in person?
If these changes do occur, should they be permanent or temporary?
First of all, the education reforms that occurred at the turn of the 20th century may have been relevant during that time, but some present-day reformers argue they’re no longer applicable today.
Secondly, the pandemic has made people reconsider what they consider to be normal and what is and isn’t working for American children.
One particularly serious problem that (literally and figuratively) has divided Americans is the infamous “digital divide.” This term refers to the digital gap between well-to-do American families and low-income working families.
While the former basically live in digital havens, the latter have to contend with poor internet connectivity. Some of them don’t even have access to digital devices like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.
Furthermore, the education crisis brought on by the pandemic has brought people’s attention once again to a phenomenon known as the “summer slide” or “summer fade.”
The summer slide, which is said to take place during the summer vacation, supposedly happens when students forget a large chunk of what they learned in school.
According to some critics, the pandemic-induced crises of the digital divide and poor education quality have only exacerbated the issue of the summer slide.
Thus, a proposal has been introduced: to spread out learning more evenly throughout a longer academic year, split up by shorter breaks in lieu of one long summer break.
Although the education system from the early 1900s is still largely at play today (despite the issues brought on by the pandemic), calls for another reform might be on the cards.